6 songs – 21 minutes
Shawn Amos may not appear to have a stereotypical background for a blues singer. He is the son of Wally Amos (of the Famous Amos cookie brand). He is also the founder and CEO of the digital content studio Freshwire, a venture of marketing giant Omnicom. He has worked in A&R, production and brand marketing.
Initial appearances can of course be deceiving. On the other side of the same coin, Amos’s mother was R&B singer Shirlee May, and he has produced and performed with Solomon Burke, and produced John Lee Hooker and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, amongst others. He has also released three albums before The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It, a six song EP featuring four well-known covers and two originals.
Kicking off with “Hoodoo Man Blues”, Amos and his band (Don Medina on drums, Chris Roberts on guitar and Ed Terrio on bass, together with Anthony Marinelli on Hammond B-3 organ and Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough on backing vocals) immediately settle into a deep groove on their take of the Junior Wells classic. It’s a relatively faithful interpretation, which is played with impressive conviction and muscular assertiveness.
It is followed by Amos’ own strikingly original “(The Girl Is) Heavy”, which starts with dissonant tremoloed guitar over a stuttering, funky backbeat and sinuous harp, before launching into a gospel-like chorus. The second verse switches to a laid-back shuffle rhythm which then alternates with Roberts’ dissonant guitar and the funk of the first verse as the song develops. The result is a surprisingly effective and certainly memorable piece.
“I’m the Face” by The Who was, of course, a re-working of Slim Harpo’s masterful “Got Love If You Want It” and Amos’ cover drags the song back to its Louisiana swamp roots, with fine jungle drumming from Medina. Amos’ harp work reflects the influence of Junior Wells as he sings “I’m the face, baby, is that clear? I’m the face if you want it, I’m the face if you want it, dear. All the others are third class tickets by me, baby, is that clear?”
Of the remaining covers, the Elmore James classic “Something Inside of Me” is re-interpreted as a stripped-down trio, without the horns or slide guitar of the original, although Amos still retains James’ mournful, almost funereal drone. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” follows Junior Wells’ version pretty faithfully and is superbly played. The musicians resist the urge to update it unnecessarily or to over-play on it, making the carnal lust of the lyrics all the most powerful.
The final song is another Amos original, “Sometimes I Wonder”, an R&B ballad in which he sings “I got a dark side on my shoulder, I keep my hands in view. You’re gonna know how my love feels, you’re gonna see what it can do. I’m gonna take me a trip now, I’m gonna fly real soon. Remember me to my children, that man of yours too.”
The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It is a very impressive release of Chicago-style electric blues, featuring some classic covers that Amos absolutely inhabits, as well as two high quality original tracks. Well worth listening to and we look forward to a full length album in due course.